A Bitter Wound

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“The Lord has certainly inflicted a bitter wound in the death of our infant son. But He is Himself a father and knows what is good for His children.” – John Calvin

In 1540, Calvin married Idelette de Bure, widow of his friend Jean Stordeur. Idelette was a woman of strength, individuality, character, and, as Calvin described her, his “best companion.” Though they shared a short nine years together, it was filled with a lifetime of joy and sorrow. In 1542, the couple lost their first child together, Jacques, at 2 weeks old after he was born prematurely. Over the next five years they would lose two more infants in a similar way.

In a letter to a fellow minister Calvin penned the above reflection; one that I stumbled upon shortly after my own miscarriage.

It was my second pregnancy. The confirmation surprised us, but my husband Tim and I were overjoyed by the blessing. Despite his warnings that our articulate 2-year-old would spoil the surprise, I prayed for baby with my daughter every night, already imagining life as a family of four. In that short time, we began our preparations, our name brainstorming, our announcement plans. About a week later warning signs of an impending miscarriage turned my anticipation to plunging anxiety, and a resulting overnight stay at the ER confirmed my fears. I was losing the baby.

No words adequately express the pervasive, keen despair I felt then, but Calvin’s descriptor of “bitter wound” comes close. Peace came quickly after the death of a believing grandparent only a month before, but this was different. Here I wrestled with questions that until that moment were mere philosophical conundrums – questions of original sin in the young and the unborn, of God’s justice and mercy, and of the meaning of election, among other things. Now that it was my reality, each question brimmed with new immediacy, colored by the grief and loneliness that too many parents know. And my uncertainty yielded no comfort.

I wonder if these same thoughts swirled through the minds of Calvin and Idelette as they did through mine. Calvin addresses infant election in his Institutes, confirming in his interpretation of John 3:36 that infants cannot be condemned since they cannot exercise willing unbelief. Was his assurance challenged by his own experience? I know mine was.

But just as theology does not develop in a vacuum, it is not tested in one either. The concepts and doctrines that Calvin had devoted himself to exploring and teaching were now held to the fire, and there is no such thing as a scholastic understanding of God’s sovereignty and love in the heart-rending aftermath of such a loss.

In times of seemingly senseless events, we also stand at the crossroads. We have to earnestly and honestly consider if we really believe that our God is who He reveals Himself to be, trusting where our human sight fails. For Calvin’s part, he bowed his head in faith, and even in the midst of such pain and uncertainty did not lean on his own understanding (as impressively vast as it was). Rather, he acknowledged God as his Good Father who knows what is best, even when it’s not readily demonstrated in this life.

Truly there will be seasons and sufferings that will challenge our fundamental beliefs. Even if we come out the other side intact, we may never in this life receive an answer that satisfies our questions. We can, however, be satisfied in what the Scriptures consistently confirm:

He is our Good Father, knowing above all what is good for each of His little ones.

Kaylena Radcliff, Communications Committee. Originally published as “A Bitter Wound” at www.christianhistoryinstitute.org.

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